What is Obon? Exploring One of Japan’s Most Important Holidays

During the summer observance of Obon, families in Japan reunite to give homage and thanks to their ancestors, who have returned for a brief visit to the living. Many families set up special altars in their homes decorated with food offerings for these visiting spirits, which may include vegetables, dango (rice dumplings), noodles, and fruits. Candles, special paper lanterns called bon chochin, and incense may also be placed on the Bon Altar. Vegetable animals – a horse made from a cucumber or an ox made out of eggplant – serve as symbolic transport for ancestors to return to the otherworld. At Morikami, we set up a Bon Altar inside the museum to honor our ancestors, including George Morikami. We hope you’ll observe this tradition with us when you visit Saturday, August 16 or Sunday, August 17.

Throughout three days of festivities, communities gather for Bon Odori, folk dancing, to entertain the visiting spirits. Men, women and children dance around a platform stage called a yagura on which drummers and flutists perform.  As the evening progresses, the singing and dancing become more animated.  Lively street fairs complete with games, food, and shop stalls pop up in larger communities. On the final evening, the visiting spirits depart on a journey illuminated by farewell fires—floating paper lanterns.  This ceremony is called tōrō nagashi.

While Obon is a traditional and religious Japanese holiday celebrated exclusively during the months of July or August, we offer a glimpse into Obon as it is celebrated in Japan, with Lantern Festival – a unique fall festival coming up Saturday, October 18. Tickets for members are on sale through August 31 and ticket sales open to the public on September 1. Tickets are expected to sell out and are only available online in advance at www.morikami.org/lanternfest. We hope you’ll join us at our most iconic annual event!

 

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Vlogs With Veljko: Growing the Morikami Collections

From art to armor and everything in between, our collections are full of amazing pieces of both historical and cultural significance. But – have you ever wondered how these pieces come to be part of our 9000-piece collection? In this episode of Vlogs with Veljko, you’ll find out how we keep our collections growing – giving you the opportunity to experience Japan’s amazing culture right here in South Florida.

Lantern Festival In the Spirit of Obon 2014

What is Lantern Festival?

Last year, Morikami’s much-loved summer event, Bon Festival,  evolved into Lantern Festival: In the Spirit of Obon. In an effort to protect the safety of Morikami visitors and staff, we moved the event out of the often inclement and even dangerous Florida summer months. While Obon is a traditional and religious Japanese holiday celebrated exclusively during the months of July and August, we have preserved the essence of Morikami’s much-loved event and the sanctity of Obon as it is celebrated in Japan, with Lantern Festival – a unique Fall celebration.

The 2013 Lantern Festival, our first ever, was a resounding and sold-out success. As we look toward 2014, we wanted to update you on some important changes to the event and explain why we’re making them.

NEW – Priority Access for Members!

Based on your feedback following Lantern Festival last year, and in an effort to improve your Lantern Festival experience, we intend to limit attendance even further at this year’s event. In order to do so, we can no longer offer free admission to Lantern Festival for Morikami members. However, members will have access to a limited amount of deeply discounted tickets before they go on sale to the public, and priority access to the festival one hour before the gates open to the public.* Priority access is a perk just for members and details about what’s included in this extra hour of festival access are available under the member tab on the festival web page and listed below:

  • Access to the festival one hour early: Take in the gardens and grounds, and participate in festival activities with your Morikami family during this members-only hour.
  • Early bird lantern sales (limited quantities available): beat the rush and get your lantern an hour before the general public!
  • Members-only taiko show: Grab a seat at this exclusive performance by the ever-popular Fushu Daiko!
  • Special members-only sake selection: Taste our members-only sake selection and learn about the brewing process from our sake experts.

A limited number of members-only tickets will go on sale August 1, a month before ticket sales open to the general public. Thank you – as always! – for your support as we strive to make our events more enjoyable year after year. We can’t wait to celebrate Lantern Festival 2014 with you!

*Please note: only current members (with valid member ID’s effective on October 18, 2014) may take advantage of members-only festival access, between 2pm and 3pm. Any guests attending with you must be covered by your membership to enter the festival during this time.

Valentine’s Day and White Day in Japan

For those of you counting down, there are only seven shopping days left before the much anticipated (or dreaded) Valentine’s Day! In preparation, we talked with Education Director, Shigeko Honda, about an interesting tradition called White Day that sprang up around Valentine’s Day in Japan. Here’s what we learned:

 Valentine’s Day first became popular in Japan in the 1960s. Women would buy a number of boxes of giri-choco (義理チョ コ), “courtesy chocolate,” and tomo-choco (友 チョコ), chocolate for her female friends, and distribute them around the office to friends or acquaintances.  She would purchase an expensive box of honmei-choco (本命チョ コ) chocolate of love, and another gift, such as a necktie, for her special someone.

As the holiday became more and more widely celebrated, the confectionery industry started to sell white sweets as return Valentine gifts, since in Japan, henrei (返礼), “returning the favor,” is considered important etiquette.  The Japan National Confectionery Association eventually designated March 14 as White Day in 1980, giving men an official day to return the favor. Traditionally popular White Day gifts include cookies, jewelry, white chocolate, white lingerie, and marshmallows.

Stores in Japan take advantage of the Japanese feelings of obligation and promote White Day by giving men plenty of reminders and incentives in the form of White Day sales and special White Day markets. Here are a few examples:

While White Day hasn’t officially taken off here in the states, we think it’s a great way to say thank you!

P.S. If you’re still looking for some sweets for your sweetie, or even your best friends (Gal-entine’s Day anyone?) may we suggest something from the Museum Store? We’re stocked with Japanese snacks and sweets, as well an array of jewelry, clothing, accessories, and more! Stop by or visit us online and check out our selection. We’re sure you’ll find something for everyone on your Valentine’s/White Day list.

New Year’s Series Part 5 – The Finale: Shishimai & Daruma!

UPDATE 1/10/14: Due to extreme flooding Oshogatsu has been postponed until Sunday, January 19, 2014. If you have already purchased tickets you will receive an email with details about your purchase. Otherwise, you may still purchase tickets online until Friday, January 17th at noon. We apologize for any inconvenience and hope to see you all there next Sunday!

As our last piece of the New Year’s series (don’t miss part 1, part 2, part 3 and part 4) we wanted to tell you about two of the most popular and widely known traditions of the Japanese New Year – Shishimai, the Lion Dance, and Daruma. These two are among the most recognizable elements of the Japanese New Year and our annual celebration: Oshogatsu.

Shishimai

Shishimai is the traditional Lion Dance performed during New Year’s celebrations all over Japan. The tradition originated in China, but has spread throughout Japan as a New Year’s staple as well as a popular dance at Shinto Shrines during other celebrations. The lion costume is made of a wood and lacquer head called a shishi-gashira which literally means lion head, and the body is made of green dyed cloth with white designs. The lion can be manipulated by a single person, or two people, and as with Chinese lions, the make of the head and designs on the body will differ from region to region.

In Okinawa, a similar dance exists, though the lion there is quite different than the shishi of mainland Japan. Instead of dancing to the sounds of flutes and taiko drums (like he does at Oshogatsu), the Okinawan shisa dance is often performed to folk songs played with the sanshin.

Get a taste of this lively dance, and some other Oshogatsu activities in our video below:

Daruma

Daruma is also a very important and recognizable figure for the New Year. The original Daruma, also called Bodhidharma, was a Buddhist monk who lived during the 5th/6th century CE. He is traditionally regarded as its first Chinese patriarch and the father of Zen Buddhism.

Later, monks began designing dolls as symbols of Daruma, and these dolls are now regarded as a symbol of good luck, especially for the new year. It’s common to give a Daruma doll as a gift, then the giftee colors in one eye of the doll and makes a wish or sets a goal. Once the wish or goal is complete Daruma’s other eye can be colored in. In this way, every time the recipient sees the one-eyed Daruma, he/she recalls the goal. It’s sometimes said that Daruma-san is motivated to grant your wish, because you promise to give him full sight once the goal is accomplished.

At Oshogatsu you can take part in this tradition too! At our DIY Daruma wall you can write a wish or goal, and color in one of Daruma’s eyes. Then you can come back next year and give him full sight if your wish or goal comes true. We’ll also have last year’s Daruma Wall up for you to check in on your 2013 wishes and goals.

We hope to see you all at Oshogatsu this Sunday – and remember: discounted tickets are on sale ONLY until Saturday at noon, after that tickets will be $10 for kids and $15 for adults at the gate. Happy New Year, and have a wonderful Year of the Horse!

New Year’s Series Part 3 – Special Episode of Vlogs with Veljko: Nengajo

UPDATE 1/10/14: Due to extreme flooding Oshogatsu has been postponed until Sunday, January 19, 2014. If you have already purchased tickets you will receive an email with details about your purchase. Otherwise, you may still purchase tickets online until Friday, January 17th at noon. We apologize for any inconvenience and hope to see you all there next Sunday!

 

Our New Year’s series is back with a special episode of Vlogs with Veljko. This week we’ll let our Curator of Collections do the talking about one Japanese New Year’s tradition that you can get in on yourself: Nengajo!

Stop by Morikami to make your own New Year’s card now through December 31st (it’s FREE with paid museum admission!) For now, take a look at some of Veljko’s favorite cards, and get some history (or maybe a little inspiration for your own card).

You can also join us for a day chock full of Japanese New Year’s traditions – Oshogatsu! Get details and tickets on the event site. And don’t forget to check back next week for our next New Year’s topic! See you then 🙂

Delicious Eats & a Taste of the Rice Pounding Ceremony – Part 2 of Our New Year’s Series

UPDATE 1/10/14: Due to extreme flooding Oshogatsu has been postponed until Sunday, January 19, 2014. If you have already purchased tickets you will receive an email with details about your purchase. Otherwise, you may still purchase tickets online until Friday, January 17th at noon. We apologize for any inconvenience and hope to see you all there next Sunday!

 

With Part 2 of our New Year’s Blog series we want to talk about one of our favorite parts of any celebration – you guessed it – the food. Food plays an important part in celebrating the Japanese New Year; from Mochitsuki, rice-pounding to make mochi cakes, to special New Year’s eats, there’s a lot to taste and try when you visit us during Oshogatsu.

NEW YEAR’S FOODS

There are a few foods that are important symbols of good luck and happiness for the New Year. These special New Year’s foods are called osechi-ryori, and are traditionally packed in layered lacquer boxes called jubako, which are similar to bento boxes. The dish depends on the area, but some common dishes include kuromame (simmered black soy beans), kurikinton (mashed sweet potato with sweet chestnuts), tazukuri (candied dried sardines), renkon (lotus roots) and shrimp.

Each dish and ingredient holds meaning. Some dishes are said to bring good health, others a good harvest, happiness, prosperity, longevity, etc. Traditionally, yellow dishes and ingredients such as kazunoko (herring roe) symbolize prosperity, while mame (beans) are for good health. Usually, people make osechi dishes by New Year’s Eve to last through the first few days of the year so that they won’t have to cook during the celebration days.

At Morikami we’ll serve our own take on a few of these New Year’s flavors, as well as traditional mochi cakes straight from our the rice pounding ceremony. (We’ll also serve a few familiar American festival favorites.) No matter what, there will be plenty to taste!

NEW YEAR’S EATS AT OSHOGATSU

This year, as a special treat, the Cornell Café will serve a dish called chirashizushi. Traditionally, this is a festive dish served on special occasions, and loosely translates to “scattered sushi.” Ours includes tuna and salmon sashimi with shrimp, snow peas, carrots and a symbol of longevity in the new year – an origami crane. On festival grounds we’ll offer some other New Year’s eats like soba noodles and coconut shrimp!

Soba is a traditional noodle dish, made from buckwheat noodles in a hot soup, and symbolizes wishes for good luck in the year ahead. Shrimp is also an important symbolic food for New Year’s and is believed to promote longevity. Some say this is because shrimp have curved backs like the very elderly. Check out our food page as the event gets closer for more on what we’ll be serving up as well as full menus.

THE RICE POUNDING CEREMONY

Mochitsuki—the rice pounding ceremony – is essential to Oshogatsu, and is one of our favorite parts of the festivities. Traditionally, mochitsuki begins the day before by soaking the mochigome (sweet rice paste). The next day, the mochigome is ready to be steamed in the seiro (a wooden steaming frame) and then put into the usu, a large mortar made from wood, stone or concrete. The hot rice paste is then pounded with a kine ,a big wooden hammer, until smooth and shiny.

One of the most exciting parts of mochisutki is watching the cooperation between the person pounding and the person assisting (who quickly darts his or her hand into the usu and turns the rice before the next rhythmic pound of the hammer). It takes some coordination to get it right, but once the mochi is smooth and consistent in texture it’s placed onto a mochiko (sweet rice flour) covered surface, and small portions are pinched off, formed into balls, flattened and then set aside to cool until ready to eat.

At Morikami we perform the rice-pounding ceremony a few times throughout the day in order for everyone to get a chance to see and participate in the spectacle.

Tune in next week for a special New Year’s edition of Vlogs With Veljko where he’ll tell us about a very special Japanese New Year’s tradition- Nengajo!

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Arts & Crafts Takes on a Whole New Meaning in Our Newest Exhibit

Fall is a busy time at Morikami. From gearing up for Lantern Fest to preparing for the new season of educational programs there are lots of changes happening during the “cooler” months coming up. One of those changes is happening as we speak – our galleries are being transformed from a haven for some awe-inspiring Kokeshi dolls, into a space for outrageous fashion and amazing works of Kōgei  art.

You probably already know a little about our upcoming Japanese Street Fashion exhibit, but you may be unfamiliar with Kōgei , as it is sometimes difficult to explain exactly what it is to our non-Japanese  followers. Never fear – we’re here to help.

What is Kōgei ?

Kōgei  is an art that couples form and function, bringing beauty to everyday objects. As one Japan Times article explains it “Kōgei has often been translated into English as ‘crafts,’ and such works don’t fit exactly into the category of fine arts in the West. Against this backdrop, they have been perceived as occupying a lower station than “art.”But in Japan they form a class of their own, as an applied art, with some masters honored by the government as living national treasures. Such handicrafts include ceramics, fine “urushi” lacquer designs, silk fabrics and more.”

In short Kōgei  artists are craftsmen of the highest level who create works of art that also happen to be very common objects such as tea bowls or lacquer ware.

What will the exhibit be like?

This exhibit, Contemporary Kōgei Styles in Japan,  brings together approximately 90 Kōgei-style artworks including ceramics, textiles, dolls, and works of metal, lacquer, wood, bamboo, and glass created by over 40 of Japan’s most influential and leading Kōgei artists of international renown. The exhibit is organized by Japan’s Agency for Cultural Affairs, Ministry of  Foreign Affairs, Consulate General of Japan in Miami and Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens with special collaboration from the Tokyo National Museum of Modern Art, All Nippon Airways Co., LTD., and Stella M. Holmes. We’re also proud to announce that after careful consideration, the Japanese government chose us as the only museum in the country to host this exhibit, so you won’t get to see these pieces anywhere else in the U.S.

These works are by very influential artists including some living national treasures. The exhibit runs from October 8, 2013 through February 18, 2014 and some of the objects will be rotated out for new ones half way through, so you’ll have something new to see each time you visit us.  The video below gives a wonderful overview of the art form and exhibit from the perspective of some of the featured artists as well as some of the exhibit’s organizers.

What’s a Living National Treasure?

Based on Japan’s 1950 Law for Protection of Cultural Properties, some individuals, small groups and preservation groups can be designated Living National Treasures. This mark of distinction means the individual or group has reached mastery in a certain area including drama, music, art, and other intangible cultural artifacts of high value in terms of Japanese history or art.  Today there are over 100 men and women on the list of Living National Treasures in the category of crafts. Though there is no real equivalent to this distinction in our culture, you might compare it to MacArthur Genius Grant recipients or Nobel Prize winners, though these designees may be recognized in a diverse range of fields and Japan’s Living National Treasures are recognized for their skill and commitment in keeping traditional Japanese cultural aspects alive and thriving.

Will I be able to hear from any of the artists?

We’re glad you asked – yes!  Not only will you be able to view work from some of these Living National Treasures, you’ll also be able to hear from one, as well as another featured artist. We’ll be hosting a lecture with speakers Murose Kazumi and Men’ya Shōho on October 9, 2013. You’ll find details and ticket information here.

We hope you’ll join us for this exciting opportunity to see and hear from some of Japan’s top Kōgei artists!

Welcome the Newest Member of the Morikami Family

If you haven’t heard the news yet, we have a new Curator of Education! Shigeko Honda comes to us from the University of West Florida where she served as the Director of the Japan Center and the Japan House. We sat down with Shigeko-san for a quick Q&A so you can get to know her a little better. Here’s what she had to say:

Q: What did you do as the Director of the Japan Center and Japan House at the University of West Florida?

A: I supervised the Japanese language program, reviewed applications for the Florida-Japan Linkage Institute’s out-of-state-tuition exemption program, organized the annual U.S.-Japan Social Welfare symposium and Summer Semester in Japan program (in  collaboration with a partner college in Japan), organized Japanese cultural programs and events, handled displays at the Japan House, served as a liaison for our sister city (Gero) and sister state (Wakayama), managed volunteers, etc. 

Q: It sounds like you had a lot on your plate at UWF, but all of them seem to stem from your interest in fostering understanding between the U.S. and Japan. What initially made you want to spread your love of Japanese Culture in the U.S.?

A: I enjoy Japanese culture and thought that teaching and sharing it with American people would be a great way to keep learning about and enjoying it myself.

Q: We know you’re originally from Japan, but what city did you grow up in, and when did you come to the U.S.?

A: I was born and raised in a small town called Daigo in Ibaraki prefecture.  The town is surrounded by mountains and has four distinct and beautiful seasons.  I attended high school in Daigo and then went to Tokyo to attend college.  I came to the U.S. 33 years ago with my husband, who was originally from Pensacola.  I lived in Pensacola for the first 8 years, and then moved to Gulf Breeze where I lived for 25 years. I like to call Gulf Breeze and Pensacola my American hometowns. 

Q: Cuisine is one of our favorite things to talk about, so we just have to ask – what is your favorite American food?    

A: Steak.  Although I only eat steak every once in a while, I like a good steak grilled medium rare with a baked potato with sea salt.   

Q: Even though you’ve been in Florida for a while, you’ve only been with us a short time, so what has been your favorite part of working at Morikami so far?

A: Being able to be involved in such a significant event as the Kōgei Arts and Crafts exhibit that is sponsored by the Japanese government’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Agency for Cultural Affairs as well as  the Consulate General of Japan in Miami has been great.  Not only do some of the objects in the exhibit come from the National Museum of Modern Art in Tokyo, many of them are made by National Living Treasures. To be able to get involved at this scale in such a high level exhibit is truly a privilege.

Q: The Kōgei exhibit is certainly a big project, but are there any projects you are particularly excited to start working on here at Morikami after that?

A: Working with docents makes me very excited.  They are so knowledgeable and they’re wonderful people.  I would like to share with them what I know about Japanese culture and learn about Morikami from them.

Q: So, when you aren’t here learning from our top notch docents or helping others learn more about Japan what do you like to do in your free time?

A: After cleaning house, I like to arrange flowers and have a cup of tea and some quiet time.

Celebrating our Elders

You may already know that Japanese culture promotes a deep respect for the elderly, but did you know there is a national holiday to celebrate the aged in Japan? It’s called Keiro No Hi, and it is celebrated every third Monday of September, which is September 16th this year.

Keiro No Hi dates back to 1947 when the first “Old Folks Day” or Toshiyori No Hi was celebrated in  Hyōgo Prefecture. As its popularity spread throughout the country the Japanese government decided to make the celebration an official national holiday in the tradition of Happy Monday (which is the Japanese custom that gives workers a three-day weekend where possible) in 1966.

While there is no specific way to celebrate Keiro No Hi, many people buy gifts or prepare a special dinner for the elderly in their family and bring food or other necessities to the elderly in their neighborhoods. The holiday is meant to remind people to pay respect to their elders and thank them for their years of service to the community.

Even though Morikami will be closed on the official day of Keiro No Hi, why not tell the older people in your life how much you appreciate them a day early or a day late? Enjoy a leisurely stroll through the garden, soak in the beauty of our current exhibits and grab lunch at the Cornell Café. We would love to be the host of your personal Keiro No Hi, and we hope you’ll join us in saying thank you to all those who have given their guidance and wisdom through the years.